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Campus a priority in Wivell's run for delegate

June 16, 2002

The Maryland Court of Appeals' decision to overturn Gov. Parris Glendening's legislative redistricting plan has created a dilemma for Washington County Commissioner William Wivell, who was ready to give up his seat on the county board for a shot at representing district 2A in the Maryland General Assembly.

Wivell, a 38-year-old Republican just finishing up his first term, said he filed for the delegate seat because Glendening's plan made it an open district in which he wouldn't have to try to seat an incumbent Republican.

On Tuesday he told The Herald-Mail's Laura Ernde that if the appeals court puts incumbent Del. Bob McKee back in district 2A, he'll run for county commissioner again.

But there's some feeling that the court will leave that district alone, and if so, Wivell said he'll be ready to run against LeRoy Myers Jr. and Vikki Nelson in the GOP primary and, if he wins, take on Peter Perini in the general election.

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What he has to offer, he said, is the experience of someone who's held county office, who knows how state mandates can affect local government.

As a Republican member of a legislative body that's overwhelmingly Democratic, how would you overcome the minority party's lack of clout in the state capital?

Wivell said he'd been fortunate to work on a board where party membership was less important than how the issues affected county residents. Moving to a more partisan body is "going to be a hard pill for me to swallow," Wivell said.

"My approach will be to be honorable and true to my word and expect them to be the same," he said, adding that if fellow GOP member Robert Ehrlich is elected, being a Republican might be less of a liability than it is now in Annapolis.

Given that no first-term delegate will be appointed to a money committee like Appropriations, which assignment would you seek?

Wivell said he hadn't given it much thought, but noted that with his financial background as an accountant working for Allegheny Energy, he would like to move to something involving financial matters.

If you could accomplish only one thing during your first term, what would it be?

"It would have to be completion of the University System of Maryland campus," Wivell said.

The campus, now slated for downtown Hagerstown, is important because there are too many residents here without high school diplomas, let alone higher-education degrees.

Without a more highly educated population, Wivell said the county will never attract the high-paying jobs that go along with the so-called "high-technology corridor" proposed by Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan.

Both Ehrlich and Myers have said they would consider moving the campus out of its proposed site in downtown Hagerstown, while Nelson has said that too much more debate might result in the project being lost to Frederick County. Where do you stand?

"I don't believe downtown was the best choice," Wivell said, because it leaves no room for long-term growth. The local steering committee's choice should not have been overruled, he said, in part because it will cost twice as much to build it downtown than at a suburban site.

"The project should be delayed until the next governor is elected," Wivell said, so that that person can make the decision.

What other issues would you press for action on?

Wivell said he would advocate for more responsible state spending, so that the state is not faced with the "structural deficit" of more than $700 million some have predicted.

He backs slot machines at the state's race tracks to fund improvements in education, where he notes that the percentage of costs being paid by the state are dropping.

He would also push for progress on the widening of Interstate 81 and the extension of the runway at the Hagerstown Regional Airport.

"We have to make sure that Washington County receives its fair share," he said.

Finally, he would work to preserve the quality of life in Washington County by saving some of its rural lands for the future. He would do that by purchasing easements and by making sure farmers aren't harmed by ill-thought-out regulations like those that followed the pfisteria outbreak, which he said were based on dubious science.

Wivell told The Herald-Mail's Ernde that many people have called and written, asking him not to leave the county board, where he's been the member who forces the board to justify every spending decision it makes.

The real dilemma is that it is now June 16 and the court may take at least two weeks to write its own plan. The filing deadline for state offices was shifted to July 8, but the last day to file for local office remains July 1. Wivell must decide quickly whether to run for another term as commissioner, or take a chance that the court's plan might pit him against McKee.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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